Three Points from N.C. State's 84-66 win over Florida State:
1) Hi, my name is ...
… Tony Warren Jr. The 6-8 forward had the best game of his freshman season on Tuesday with 31 points and 13 rebounds. Warren scored with his usual array of "old man" moves, quirky shots from within 8 feet of the basket that don't always look pretty but usually go in, plus he made both of his 3-pointers and all five of his free throws.
(Note: Warren's FG percentage (61.5) through 25 games was better than his FT percentage (51.7). Warren's a good shooter so it doesn't make any sense that he's not a good free-throw shooter.)
Warren's real value on Tuesday was on the offensive glass, where he had eight of his season-best 13 rebounds. Warren had more offensive rebounds against FSU, which relies on three 7-footers, than he had total rebounds in any other ACC game.
Warren has had three scoreless ACC games but more perplexing is the zero rebound game, in 34 minutes, at Virginia on Jan. 29. That shouldn't happen and N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried has stressed to Warren the importance of getting more rebounds.
There are a lot of variables at play (C.J. Leslie's likely exit, Julius Randle's college decision) but Warren has the potential to lead the ACC in scoring next season. That's how good of a natural scorer he is.
With Warren, it's not a question of "if" but "when" and some of his problems this season have been with the concepts of team dynamics and patience. Gottfried recently sat Warren and fellow freshman Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis down and told the three freshmen they are all valuable but their minutes are going to vary from game to game.
Warren played a season-low 13 minutes at Clemson on Feb. 10 but he has played 22 and 31 since. Warren started (for just the fifth time) in place of Purvis on Tuesday, in part because Gottfried said State needed to try something "different" but also because Warren has the potential to make the Wolfpack a better rebounding team (See Point 2).
Purvis ended up playing 12 minutes and Lewis for 10 on Tuesday but given FSU's size, that's not a surprise. With UNC going to a smaller lineup, the minutes could be distributed differently on Saturday. The most important thing, Gottfried told the freshmen in their sit-down, was to find a way to win games.
The message seems to have gotten through to Warren, who hasn't always been on the same page as his veteran teammates.
"We are all just trying to play our roles and try to help the team win the best way we can," Warren said.
2) A little help
Continuing on the theme of what N.C. State is and what N.C. State isn't, as N.C. State showed again on Tuesday it knows how to score. The Wolfpack has a lot of options on offense and when C.J. Leslie is attacking the rim (under control), Scott Wood (13 points) is making shots and Lorenzo Brown is dealing (nine assists), there is no better team with the basketball in the ACC, or anywhere else, save for maybe Indiana.
N.C. State's main problems have been two-fold this season: The Wolfpack doesn't turn teams over enough with its defense and it doesn't rebound well.
So what happens is N.C. State is reduced to trying to out-score other teams, which it has been able to do seven times in ACC play. The twin problems are also the reason the Pack plays so many close games.
You can't create separation without creating turnovers or cleaning up missed shots. N.C. State did both on Tuesday, which led to its most complete win in ACC play. This is not a coincidence. There is historical significance in the ability to throttle teams (from Sunday, ICYMI), which is really what N.C. State did on Tuesday for the first time in the ACC this season.
The Pack finished with 45 rebounds (a season-high) and 21 on the offensive glass (also a season-high). Seven of the team's nine steals came in the first half when the Pack took control of the game.
T.J. Warren (13) and Leslie (10) both helped Richard Howell (seven), the ACC's leading rebounder, on the glass. Warren's help on the glass was particularly important.
Too many times, N.C. State lets Howell fend for himself — which he's capable of doing — on the defensive glass because it wants to get out and score in transition. There's a time and place for that but it can't be every possession. Howell needs help, particularly away from the ball or weakside (for the lack of a better term).
This is the main reason N.C. State has been out-rebounded in nine games this season and given up at least 13 offensive rebounds in 16 games. By comparison, Tuesday was State's sixth game with 13 or more offensive rebounds.
"We do have to be a better rebounding team," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "I do think at times our team relies on Richard to go get them all. A lot of times we have perimeter guys leaking out, ready to go run the fast break before we have the ball.
"We have to be a team where everybody gets involved in the rebounding part of the game."
I bring up the point about the "weakside" rebounding because: A) FSU had only six offensive rebounds on Tuesday and B) Warren is capable of filling that void.
Rodney Purvis prefers to get out in transition, as does Wood and Brown, so someone has to help Howell and Leslie. With his size, Warren's the logical choice.
Brown can be an alternative, which would mean Tyler Lewis needs to be in the game to run the break (a la Alex Johnson last year). You'll recall, Brown had nine rebounds in the NCAA tournament win over San Diego State last year and six against Georgetown.
3) What happened to FSU?
I have a ton of respect for FSU's Leonard Hamilton. Few coaches are as selfless as Hamilton, who not only has an ACC title but has also built FSU into the third-best program in the ACC in his 10 seasons.
That being said, this FSU team is brutal. I understand there has been personnel turnover, injuries and experience lost from last year's title team. I get that but the Noles shouldn't be this bad on defense or, outside of Michael Snaer, be so deficient in overt toughness.
Every program has down years and Hamilton will get the Noles back, maybe sooner rather than later if top prospect Andrew Wiggins lands in Tallahassee, but Tuesday's loss says as much about where N.C. State is as it does about FSU's current station in life.